Memory Eternal to the Fallen Heroes; Doors of Thy Mercy; From My Youth; Blessed Are They
The Clarion Choir/Steven Fox
Naxos 8.573889 53.25 mins
In his own era, Alexander Kastalsky was a major player in Russian music – a student of Tchaikovsky and Taneyev, he himself had a significant influence on the choral style of composers including Rachmaninov and Grechaninov. Yet today, his music rarely features on disc other than occasional brief appearances on atmospheric Christmas albums. More’s the pity, if this superlative recording is anything to go by. Begun in 1914, Kastalsky’s Memory Eternal, a requiem for those lost in the First World War, made its initial appearance as a large-scale concert work for choir and orchestra – the a cappella version, recorded here for the first time ever on disc, followed a couple of years later. An exact contemporary of Rachmaninov’s Vespers, it never quite matches that work in terms of gloriously arching lines, but nonetheless has many moments of exquisite choral writing.
Recorded in the sumptuously spacious acoustic of St Jean Baptiste Church in New York, The Clarion Choir’s performance is as ardently passionate as it is immaculate in its balance and pacing. Chants between movements are sung not by a member of the choir but by Leonid Roschko, a protodeacon in the Russian Orthodox Church, adding a gritty-voiced authenticity to this hugely admirable project.